There's a hyperbolic story floating around the internet this week repeating a false claim that every legislator in Iowa is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential political organization that drafts model legislation for state legislatures on a range of controversial conservative issues.
That claim originally came from ALEC itself, which the Guardian revealed last week by posting a leaked agenda from the organization's 40th annual board of directors meeting in August. The agenda mostly got attention for exposing schemes to woo back lapsed corporate members and create a 501(c)(4) lobbying arm, and for a so-called loyalty oath proposal for state chairs that ALEC said board members never adopted. But on page 39 there's a state-by-state breakdown of legislative membership that claims Iowa's is at 100 percent.
I made a few calls about the Guardian story last week at the Ames Tribune, where I've been working for the past few weeks as a local government reporter, because state Sen. Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock), who represents part of Story County outside of Ames, is an ALEC state chair. He said he wasn't aware of the loyalty oath and a decision was made not to run the story.
Anyway, here's the deal on the membership claim. The Legislative Services Agency (LSA), a nonpartisan statehouse office that provides support services, pays membership dues on behalf of lawmakers to educational organizations like the National Conference of State Legislatures. From 2007 to 2011, according to LSA director Glen Dickinson, ALEC got grouped into that. (ALEC claims to be nonpartisan despite its open advocacy for conservative free-market causes.)
In 2011, the last year the LSA paid ALEC dues, it only paid $6,400—$100 for each of 60 Republican and four Democratic representatives. Since then, all of those Democrats either opted out or left office, and there are only 53 House Republicans now. Because no dues were paid in 2013, lawmakers would have paid membership dues individually. ALEC doesn't reveal its member rolls but there are many Iowa legislators who did not pay dues then, so the 100 percent claim is unquestionably false.
In 2007, the LSA paid $13,900 for ALEC membership dues and in 2009 it paid $14,600. Dickinson said he'd have to do some research before he could say exactly how all that money was spent, but it's possible that all 150 state representatives and senators were members at some point, before they realized that ALEC aligned itself with conservative causes. Former Rep. Dolores Mertz, a Democrat from Ottosen, even served as ALEC's national chairwoman before realizing its Republican slant.
ALEC now refers to Mertz as a "chair emeritus."